Category Archives: Collectables

Danger UXB – Bomb Disposal in WW2

It’s not a very photogenic item, just  a rather dull cigarette case which I bought at an antiques fair one day. The interest lies in the inscription. It was presented to a member of the Royal Engineers for work in disposing of an unexploded bomb in 1942. The full text reads:

Presented to
SERGT. R.H. Woodrow R.E.
316161
in appreciation of courage shown
assisting Lieut. K. C. Revis R.E.
in defusing 1000 KG
PATCHAM.
13.5.42

Between 1939 and 1945 members of bomb disposal teams in the UK dealt with over 50,000 unexploded German bombs, 7,000 Anti-Aircraft shells and 300,000 beach mines. In the period 21st September 1940 to 5th July 1941 (known as “The Blitz”) an average of 84 bombs a day failed to explode on impact. Approximately one in 12 of them were designed to go off after a time delay, causing increased disruption to everyday life and, as a bonus, killing the men dealing with them. In all, 394 officers and men were killed dealing with unexploded ordnance during the war. Of these 235 were Royal Engineers working in the UK. The rest would be Royal Navy personnel, civilians and Home Guard (yes, they had their own bomb disposal units – usually based in factories and used to minimise damage and disruption to production.) olus those killed overseas. I’m afraid I can’t find figures that give a more accurate breakdown. Many more were, of course, injured.

Silver Cigarette case given to Sgt Woodrow

Patcham is part of Brighton, and during the war, being close to occupied Europe, the skies over Brighton we busy. There were 56 raids recorded on Brighton between 1940 and 1944, including one by a single bomber that killed 54 people on 14thn September 1940. A newspaper report of a post-war exhibition about the bombing mentions 636 high explosive bombs being dropped in the area during the war. Brighton was bombed on 56 occasions with 198 fatalities and 790 injuries of varying seriousness. The article says that the damage would have been far worse if it wasn’t for the number of bombs that failed to go off and specifically mentions a 1,000 kg bomb “which was dropped in a garden at Patcham by a bomber afterwards shot down on the downs in May 1942.”

I have not been able to find any information of Sergeant Woodrow, which is good in a way, as it means he survived the war. Hopefully he survived in one piece.

Lieutenant Revis survived the war too, though in his case there is some information available, and his story is quite harrowing.

He was interested in explosions as a boy, before moving on to the less dangerous hobby of riding motorcycles, became a civil engineer and, at the outbreak of war, was commissioned into the Royal Engineers and assigned to bomb disposal duties. His first bomb was a 500kg device in a Hastings garden and he defused hundreds of bombs up to 1,800 kg. It wasn’t an easy job and it was made harder by German attempts to kill or injure bomb disposal officers. As if the work wasn’t dangerous enough, they fitted booby traps to some bombs amd altered designs so that the common method of defusing a bomb one month became a way of detonating the bomb. However, Revis was not caught by a German bomb. It was a British one that caused his troubles.

In the early days of the war, piers were seen as a danger to security as they could have helped the Germans land troops during the planned invasion. As a result the east coast piers were partially dismantled and wired for demolition. In 1943, as the danger passed, we started to remove the explosives. Three years in a corrosive environment did not make this a simple job. Revis successfully defused the mines on the Palace Pier on 10th September 1943. He then moved on to the West Pier and had successfully defused six mines when the remaining mines exploded.

At one point a nurse pulled a sheet over him and he reputedly said: “Take that bloody thing off – I’m not dead yet”.

He was taken to east Grinstead Hospital where he became one of McIndoe’s Guinea Pigs. During his time in hospital he used a bed previously occupied by Richard Hillary, author of The Last Enemy, and was visited by an American airman called Clark Gable.

When the bandages came off, it was clear that he would never see again. Despite this, he taught himself to type and read braille, using what was left of his fingers, and he trained to work a capstan lathe, producing Spitfire parts. He was awarded the OBE for his bomb disposal work  and was asked by Sir Ian Fraser MP, a blind veteran of the great War, and head of St Dunstan’s (now Blind Veterans UK) to go to India to teach blinded veterans, which he did until 1947.

A brief summary of his later life includes qualifying as a solicitor, working as a Press Officer for Morris Motors, learning to water ski and flying a glider. He also drove a sports car down a runway at 100mph for a TV programme, as his wife sat in the passenger seat and gave directions. She must have been an extraordinary woman.

It doesn’t look much, but it’s the gateway to an extremely interesting story

He also appeared on This is Your Life and was the technical adviser for  episode 12 of Danger UXB, (1979) where he was played by Anthony Andrews. He also appeared on the documentary Danger! Unexploded Bomb (2001) and raised funds for the restoration of Brighton’s West Pier. It seems that several people asked him why he would want to return to it after what happened to him. His reply? “I suppose it’s the last thing I saw.”

It always amazes me what you can find on the internet these days. I’m not much of one for technology, as you know, and there are a lot of bad things about the internet, but if you need to find information on an engraved cigarette case, it’s obviously the place to look.

Close up the inscription from Revis tio Woodrow

Edit: I just searched “WW2 Patcham” and found this – for some reason I hadn’t thought to do it before.

 

 

 

Zimbabwe Hyper-inflation Money

A Day of Many Zeroes

It was an interesting day at work. We had someone in to buy gold, someone in to sell rubbish and someone who came in to waste our time chatting. He was my favourite visitor.

I put some Buffs medals on the internet, starting price 99 pence. They are quite common and the Buffs are not as keenly collected as the Freemasons.

RAOB Medals

RAOB Medals

I’ve photographed more banknotes, as you can see from the examples of Zimbabwean banknotes at the top of the page. They are examples of hyper-inflation money, though the one below is the most mind-boggling of the lot. Hyper-inflation is what you get when you have a megalomaniac clown as head of state. This post won’t sound quite so funny if you are reading it in a few years with Boris still in Number 10 and you have a £50 million note in your wallet.

They say that in Hungary during their hyper-inflation people were advised to pay as they ordered in restaurants and cafés because if they waited until the end of the meal it would have gone up.

Zimbabwe Hyper-inflation Money

Zimbabwe Hyper-inflation Money

One of my friends once sold a Zimbabwean note to an Eastern European with a tenuous grasp of capitalism – he came back twenty minutes later, having tried to exchange it in the nearest bank. Yes, he really thought he could get trillions of dollars by spending a few pounds on a banknote. God loves a tryer, as we often say in the trade.

Apart from that, nothing bad happened, and that counts as a good day the way things are going at the moment.

Cumberland Jacks

If you search through any junk box in a coin shop you can be almost certain to turn up a small brass counter, just under an inch in diameter, with a depiction of Queen Victoria on the obverse (front) and a figure on horseback on the reverse  (back) with the date 1837 and the words ‘To Hanover’.

I turned up nearly as dozen with a quick search today, and we’ve actually sold at least the same again to a collector who decided to add a few of the different types to his collection. Though they are broadly the same, they were made over a period of fifty years and many different dies were used, giving a variety of portraits, lettering and horsemen. There are even varieties where a monkey is said to replace the man, but that might just be a poor depiction of the rider’s face, allied to a good imagination.

The date and the head of Victoria provides a clue that this was about Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne, but what about Hanover and what about the horseman?

Hanover, in 1837, was still a possession of the British Kings, handed on from George I, who had been Elector of Hanover when he was offered the throne on the death of Queen Anne. It is an unusual Royal title and stems from the way the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was selected – by election. There were nine Electors – three Spiritual and (originally) four temporal. Two further temporal electors were added later – the last being Hanover in 1692.

In 1837 when Victoria came to the throne of Great Britain she was not able to take the throne of Hanover which adhered to the Salic law. This, amongst other things, prevented women from inheriting the throne.

The next male candidate was Victoria’s unpopular Uncle, Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale. He had led an interesting life – wounded twice in battle, and accused of murdering his valet, electoral fraud, incest, blackmail and adultery. He was also extremely anti-Catholic, a hard-line Tory and one of the die-hard Lords who voted against the Great Reform Bill of 1832. To be fair, much of his life was spent blamelessly and many of the accusations came from political rivals as his political input grew.

It is possible that he was not as bad as his reputation suggests, but it is true that his departure to Hanover was greeted with general approval and that the Cumberland Jack token, also known as a ‘To Hanover’, was produced as part of a celebration of his leaving.

The Hanoverians seemed happy enough with him, and once removed from Britain he seemed happy enough to treat both Catholics and Jews with courtesy, explaining that Hanoverian history gave him no reason to do otherwise. There were problems, such as when he deprived seven professors (including the Brothers Grimm) of their positions for refusing to take an oath of allegiance to him, and the troubles of 1848 which he resolved quickly by offering to step down and let the Prussians take over, but he generally seems to have been a reasonable and popular ruler.

His son George was born in Berlin in 1819 (his parents spending much time, in Germany) and was baptised by the Reverend Henry Austen, brother of the novelist Jane Austen. Austen was an interesting man, but his career is outside the scope of this post.

The Cumberland and Teviotdale title eventually became extinct in 1919 under the Titles Deprivation Act 1917 which removed British titles from those who had supported the Germans during the war.

The counters were used in card games, alongside a selection of other cheaply-produced brass tokens, as well as having a satirical and political function. If it is true that they were produced for  50 years, this use would account for it, as it would be a long time to bear a grudge against a man who died in 1851.

As you can see, they were struck from  a variety of dies. Queen Victoria was no great beauty when you look at much of the medallic art that pictures her, but on these tokens she comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, as does the reverse picture and lettering. It is hardly surprising, given the crudity of the pieces, that the man sometimes looks like a monkey.

Some of the dies were also used for advertising tokens – an article in a back issue of the Token Corresponding Society newsletter – Vol 6 Number 1 (1998) – newsletter gives a list of 12 tokens (including a To Hanover) struck using one particular obverse die.

Although I can find the information listed several times on the internet, I cannot find any legislation dated 1883, or several years around that date, which would appear to ban the production of these or other tokens.  However, ast the basck of my mind is the undeniable fact that the information on the internet all appears to be copies of just one article, and that source may be wrong.

More work, it seems, is necessary.

 

 

 

The Cinderella Medal

The featured image shows a miniature group, as worn in Mess Dress, awarded to a British officer who served in both World Wars – the first medal is a British War Medal, complete with ribbon. I’ve included it here as a way of showing the medal complete with ribbon and suspender. The one in this story is not so complete.

British War Medals were awarded to troops and merchant seamen who served overseas in many different capacities, and some were issued to troops, mainly in the Royal Navy and RAF, who served in the UK. They were also issued to soldiers who fought after November 1918 in the Russian Intervention and sailors who were engaged in mine disposal into 1920.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

The obverse features a bust of George V, as used on our coins at the time, and the reverse features a naked horseman trampling on a shield bearing a Prussian Eagle. Iconography was less subtle in those days.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

There were approximately 6.5 million issued in silver and 110,000 in bronze. They were all named, which must have been a tremendous undertaking, and a tremendous cost.

We are offered them on a regular basis and the people selling them often don’t know who the recipients were – they may have been family members or they may even have just been picked up by a previous member of the family with a magpie’s curiosity for picking up shiny objects.

This was probably the case with the medal we bought in a parcel of old coins last week. They had obviously been accumulated over the years and the selection included a little silver, a lot of copper (up to the reign of the current Queen) various odds and sods of foreign change (including war souvenirs and holiday change) and the disc of a British War Medal. It was heavily polished and the suspender was missing.

The owner passed it over to me to see if I could find any information on the recipient, as silver prices are high and he was thinking of scrapping it. That is what has happened to a lot of medals over the years. One estimate I have seen is that a million medals may have been scrapped during the silver boom in the 1980s. I have never agreed with scrapping named medals, but it’s a fact of life.

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

British War Medal 1914-18 to Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

This one, despite its defects, won’t be going into scrap. It is named to 12-1682 Pte J T Morris of the York & Lancaster Regiment. This denotes that he was a member of the 12th Battalion of the regiment, and the 12th Battalion of the York & Lancaster Regiment was the Sheffield Pals.

If you have ever read Covenant With Death by John Harris you will know the story, as the book is based on the Sheffield Pals.

MIC Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

MIC Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals – this is a medal index card which shows he was discharged to the Z Reserve at the end of the war – despite his wound in 1916 he must still have been fit for service. The Class Z Reserve was a special reserve formed for the end of the war so that if the peace negotiations broke down, which seemed likely at one time, we could recall everyone and start fighting again. I’m not sure what would have happened if they had tried it.

They were brigade with the 13th and 14th Battalions (both Barnsley Pals) and the 11th East Lancashire Regiment – probably the most famous of the Pals battalions – the Accrington pals. Mike Harding wrote a song about them, though his accuracy has been questioned. (I hope the song plays OK – my computer has no sound so I have to take it on trust. In my mind it is 1981 and I am listening to a live performance in Preston…)

Anyway, I confirmed that, as his number implied, Private Morris was in the Sheffield Pals. He may not actually have been in the attack on 1st July (the First Day of the Battle of the Somme) but he was wounded whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion in October 1916. He hasn’t left much behind him, just this disc, probably a Victory medal, and a story of military misadventure, but at least I’ve been able to bring his memory back to life for a while.

Research Pte Morris Sheffield Pals

Pte J T Morris Sheffield Pals

I’ve not done more research, but I have saved it from the scrap box and it will, I’m sure, end up in the collection of a keen collector who values the story rather than just the item.

For more on Pals Battalions, see this link. They were a brilliant idea from the point of view of recruiting and instilling esprit de corps, but when things went wrong it was like cutting the heart out of a community.

eBay Excitement!

I dropped Julia off at work etc…

(You can probably write that bit of the post for me.)

…turned on the computer, which refused to cooperate.

So I turned on the other computer and set to work. I had most of the parcels packed before anyone else arrive, at which point we had a look at the computer again, interrogated the internet and found that the pattern of pulsing lights indicate a problem with the power supply. This is what happens when you work with old, second-hand equipment.

However, this wasn’t the excitement.

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion & leaflet

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion & leaflet

We had a very nice horse medallion in auction on eBay. When we first put it on we had an email from somebody asking if they could buy it there and then, which is generally a good sign. We, of course refused, because we don’t do that – it is unfair to other bidders and it drives me mad when it happens. But partly it’s due to the fact that they never want to offer enough – they are just trying to avoid competing with others. Weonce turned down an offer of £250 for something that eventually sold for £75, but generally we don’t lose out, and we keep our integrity.

Normally, however, we turn down the offers and the bids keep rolling in.

On Saturday it had been around £50, by this morning it was £150 and by lunchtime it had climbed to £250.

Things were looking good.

It is, to be fair an exceptional medallion. The horse is well-modelled, in what I consider to be classic Chinese style, the lettering is high and crisp and the whole thing just oozed quality. Research indicates that the horse is the Flying Horse of Gansu. I knew the sculpture, but until then I didn’t know the name or the story. It was exhibited around the world in the 1970s but subsequent legislation prevents it from being taken outside mainland China.

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion - obverse

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion – obverse

It came in the original box with paperwork and was made by Toye, Kenning and Spencer, who are one of the classic medallists. Even so, this was probably the best of their work I have ever seen.

In addition, it had a beautiful coloured tone where the silver had oxidised and was one of a limited run of just 2,000 medals. (Dealer’s note – when it enhances a medallion, or you are selling you call it tone or patina, when it is unpleasant, or when you are buying, you call it tarnish.)

Finally, the icing on the cake, it was to commemorate the Chinese Exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1973. The Chinese love good quality medallions, and they also like to buy items which have links to Chinese culture.so all in all we were hoping for great things.

The bidder who had made the running all week was finally outbid at £305 with an hour to go. There was a flurry of bidding which took it up close to £380 with eight minutes to go, but as I said, whilst sitting on the edge of my seat, the serious bidders don’t bid with eight minutes to go.

Serious bidders, like me, use automated auction sniper programmes which bid with only seconds remaining.

Sure enough, as the sale closed, there was a sudden rise in price and the screen faded. That’s when they transfer the details from being an auction to being sold. It is slightly annoying as a seller when this happens. It doesn’t seem to happen when you are a buyer  – the numbers may whizz round but you don’t have to change screens to find them again.

Final price – £511.

Quite an exciting day.

After that we might be able to afford the repairs to my computer.

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion -reverse

Flying Horse of Gansu medallion – reverse

Like Work, but More Fun

We had a busy day today – the phone kept ringing, people kept visiting (with and without appointments) and though we only had two orders on eBay overnight, we had six more come in during the day. We also managed to load three lots onto eBay.

It’s just like being at work, but more fun.

When I returned home my first impression was of lemon-scented hygiene. Julia had clearly been cleaning.

She had also been cooking. We had two apple crumbles and a plum tart. The plums are from our own tree, which has been very prolific this year. The apples are from the Mencap garden and the garden of one of the neighbours. It’s always satisfying to use the garden produce. It’s just a shame that it’s over so soon. We really ought to plan the garden better, but we never quite get round to it. We’ve had plenty of courgettes this year and the baskets of tumbling tomatoes are doing well.

She also managed to cook an excellent meal of marinaded chicken, rice with fruit and nuts and green salad with tomatoes from the garden.

Whilst doing that she caught the knife block with her elbow and was momentarily the middle of a cloud of flying knives. Not quite The House of Flying Daggers, but as close as we are likely to get.

Fortunately she survived unperforated.

1997 Silver Dollar

1997 Silver Dollar

I took photos of a group 1921 pennies for eBay, a silver dollar and a papal visit medallion. While I was photographing the medallion I decided it would look good on my collection.

It doesn’t really fit in to my collection, but collectors can always find an excuse. It is an exceptionally nice medallion. with good portraits and excellent relief. And yes, now you come to ask, Newman really did, according to all his portraits, have a nose that size.

The 1921 pennies will come into their own next year – people always seem to like centenaries for souvenirs or party favours. The things that people buy are an interesting subject.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Cardinal Newman

Cardinal Newman

 

A Mystery Badge

I bought this from eBay last week. It was in a mixed lot, was badly titled and didn’t cost a fortune.

I assume from the mention of sacrifice that the name on the back belonged to a soldier killed in the Great War and a quick search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website provides the name of  17433 Private Walter John Heeley of the 2nd battalion Coldstream Guards, who died on 30th November 1917.

Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War
Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War

He is buried in Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery, France, Grave III. B. 4. Plot III was the original cemetery, which was started in November 1917. It originally held 55 burials but now contains 1,295 burials, of which 381 are unidentified. Some are from later fighting in the area but others are the result of post-war work in bringing in battlefield burials from the small plots where they were buried during and immediately after battle.

The story of the burial of the dead is a fascinating, complex and gruesome one. You can find more information here, though you may need a strong constitution.

On 30th November 1917, the Germans took the village as part of the fighting around Cambrai and the Guards Division was ordered to counter-attack. The 1st Guards Brigade, (consisting of the 1st and 2nd Coldstream Guards and the Irish Guards) was first on the scene. They formed up in an area masked by high ground and charged the village without waiting for reinforcements.

It was a military success, and it saved the British line. It was even mentioned in a poem – The Irish Guards – by Kipling, whose son John had been killed serving with the regiment in 1915. It wasn’t, unfortunately, such a success for Walter Heeley.

He was 26 years old and the husband of Rose Elsie Heeley, 42 Franchise St, Kidderminster. His parents were John Dennis Heeley and Rebecca Heeley, of Kidderminster.

In the UK he is commemorated on Kidderminster War Memorial. He also appears on the memorials of St John the Baptist Church. Kidderminster  and the Kidderminster Conservative and Unionist Club War Memorial.

The only other information I have gathered so far is that a number of these badges are known to men from Kidderminster who were killed in the war, but nobody seems to know who gave them out. Some are marked Mother’s Medal on the back. This one isn’t, suggesting that it was given to Heeley’s widow.

There is clearly still a lot of work for me to do.

 

Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War -reverse

Badge for Sacrifices made in the Great War -reverse

2020

I said a while ago that I was going to cut back on blogging and with this being the 2,020th post I’ve made, which matches nicely with the year, this is as good a time as any.

I can’t keep up with the reading and commenting, for one thing, and it seems rude to ignore people when they are kind enough to pop along and have a look at the blog. If I cut down on blogging, I can spend more time of reading and commenting.

More selfishly, I want more time for other writing projects, and I want more time for reading books. In fact I just want more time. Some nights I can write the blog in twenty minutes, as you may have noticed from some of the titles. Other times I take several hours and a number of false starts. Some days the number of words you see is near enough the number that I wrote. On the bad days the 350 words you read may be the distillation of seven or eight hundred I actually wrote. On other days I have sometimes written as many as two or three part posts before getting into my stride. Some of those discarded posts may become full grown posts in time, but many don’t. I’ve just been through my drafts and removed 12 posts which would never have amounted to anything.

My intention at the moment is to write blog posts on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. I’ll see how that goes. My standards or organisation, as you may have noticed, are such that this may end up as any combination of days as I miss deadlines and sleep my evenings away. However, roughly three times a week I will post.

Friday night will be a report on my week, Sunday will be the usual ragbag and Wednesday will be the new day for posts on Collectibles. Probably.

I sent two lots of Haibun off to magazines last night. Having decided to start writing again I thought I might as well get stuck in. I finished fourteen haibun this week – six based on old ones that were hanging around, six based on notes in my notebooks and two just came to me as I was copying out the others.

I have copied them out, rewritten, trimmed, tightened and tinkered, and, finally, selected five to send off. They have gone. I’m now looking to see if I have another three fit to send. The trouble is that after all the work, some of them just seem dull and lifeless. I might have over-worked them, or I may initially have been blind to their faults.

This afternoon I started work on some school attendance medals for eBay, and when I got home I took some pictures of a bee on a teasel – holding the teasel still with one hand and using the camera with the other. I got one reasonable photo out of twenty attempts.  Teasel without bees is an easier subject. I now know why we have teasel in the front garden, Julia says they are growing where she put some seed heads down when bringing them back from the Mencap Garden for a flower arrangement. I might have known she’d be at the bottom of it.

London School Attendance Medals 1890s

London School Attendance Medals 1890s

 

Ten Things I Learnt This Week

One, ten point lists are handy things to prompt a blog post. Last week I wrote about ten point lists, but they were already in my mind when I sat down at the keyboard. This week I sat down with a completely empty head and thought ‘What shall I write?’ I then thought ‘What did I learn this week?’ and then ‘Did I learn ten things?’ I’m hoping I did, or I’ll have to change the title.

Two, five hundred words are easy if you start with enough in your head. If you don’t have much to say, they can be a real struggle. I knocked out five 500 word posts on my Wednesday marathon and actually had to cut some to keep it to an average of 500 per post.

Three,sometimes less is better. I couldn’t get a good run at the blog last night and petered out after 250 words. I came close to 500 words twice, but the post was better when it was shortened, so I cut the extras out.

Four, freedom is not always good. The USA, with a tradition of freedom, individualism and pioneering spirit is not finding the Covid situation easy. The Germans and Swiss, who are more regimented and organised, seem to have come through the virus in much better shape. The Brits, as usual, fall between the two extremes and are totally disorganised.

Five, the Americans prefer ‘learned’ to ‘learnt’ and, according to the internet article I read, are irritated by what they see as the mis-spelling ‘learnt’. Users of British English, on the other hand, favour ‘learnt’ and see learned as an acceptable alternative. This is probably not accurate as (a) it’s on the internet and (b) I’m sure there are relaxed Americans an picky Brits about.

Six, it’s fun just relaxing and reading WordPress. There is so much to learn.

Seven, the average person eats 20-30 plant foods in a year. I got that from Helen at Growing out of Chaos. For years now I’ve been trying to keep our diet varied, and if that is the benchmark I seem to be succeeding. Like Helen, we are hovering around 60. That’s without foraging, as I’ve let that slip badly.

Eight, I now know a lot more about Edward VIII, anti-semitism, fascism and royalty medallions of the 1930s than I did at the beginning of the week. You might have guessed this from the photographs. Now isn’t the time to go into all that, as I haven’t yet written it all.

 

Nine, on-line grocery shopping is more difficult than you think. I thought I’d got it all organised but this week I still managed to order frozen spinach instead of fresh and the packs of six cobs instead of four. The big ones that come in the packs of four are good for lunch, but the small one, which come in the packs of six) are only a few bites before they are all gone. That means you have to take four for lunch, and that looks like  you are being greedy.

Ten, saag is not, as I had thought, an Indian word for spinach, but for greens of many sorts. The word for spinach is palak. I got this from Helen too. At this point, I would like to apologise to readers from the Indian sub-continent. I know there is no such language as ‘Indian’ but I am not well up on the differences and nuances of the various languages and decided to keep things simple.

So, that’s it, ten things I learnt this week. I have an uneasy feeling that I learnt more than that but haven’t retained it. That, I’m afraid, is what happens as you get older.

 

Sing a Song of Sixpence

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

1787 Sixpence Size Comparison

This sixpence is one of my favourite coins, and is pictured above with a current penny coin and a US cent for size comparison.

The sixpence was first issued in 1551 – the reign of Edward VI. He was the sickly son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, the King’s third wife. It continued in production in subsequent reigns, though it was not produced every year. One of the issues of George II was designed by John Sigismund Tanner, which is why those of you old enough to remember the 6d coin are all saying “Ah!” at the moment. Yes, that’s why it was known as a “tanner”.

Unfortunately, the Royal Mint website says that the name probably dates from the early 1800s and comes from the Romany “tawno”, meaning “small one”, which confuses things. Why the sixpence should be the small one when we had silver 4d and 3d coins at that time, is not explained, but let’s just say that I don’t consider the Royal Mint website to be 100% correct in all things.

There was a break in sixpence production between 1758 and 1787. This was partly due to a world shortage of silver, and partly due to the madness of King George, who was unable to authorise new issues. This led to the issue of unofficial token coins by local tradesmen, and the use of foreign silver coins as substitutes for the crown (five shillings) and half crown. The Bank of England also issued coins of  3 shillings and 1/6d, selecting these denominations to avoid conflict with the King’s coinage.

The design features a bust of the King wearing Roman-style armour and a wreath of laurels. He was not, as you can see, a handsome man. Looking at him brings stories of Princesses kissing frogs. The reverse has four shields representing the King’s claims to England/Scotland on one, and France, Hanover and Ireland on the others. He’d have been better off forgetting France and hanging on to America.

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In 1787 the average working wage was £15 – £20 a year – or around a shilling a day (working a six day week). A low level domestic servant could be on as little as £3 a year and a footman could earn £8 (about 6d a day) Servants were also given food, lodgings and clothing. It’s never easy comparing the cost of living, but this article is quite interesting.

So, what was happening in 1787?

February – in the newly independent America – Shay’s Rebellion fails. This was a rebellion by Massachusetts residents against government taxation policies. This seems familiar…

There would be two more rebellions a few years later – the Whiskey Rebellion and Fries’s Rebellion. Until I started writing about 1787 I had no idea American history could be so interesting.

On May 13 the Ships of the First Fleet left Portsmouth for Australia with around 700 convicts and 300 crew and guards. Or up to 1,500 people according to other accounts. It took them between 250 and 252 days to reach Botany Bay as they became a little strung out on the journey, though two days after 250 days at sea is still quite impressive.

The First Fleet is commemorated with a memorial, including a garden area with a barbecue. Because I’m trying to be a nice person, rather than a crabby old xenophobe, I will refrain from mentioning how it is typical of Australians to have a barbecue. It is not only their national symbol, alongside the kangaroo and the boomerang, but it is their way of rubbing it in that our weather is not as good as theirs.

Why Australia? Because the newly independent American colonies refused to accept our convicts. If we’d sent them to Canada, which would have been cheaper and less sunny,  I wonder if the Canadians would then have developed a love of cricket.

This mention of cricket is fortuitous as the first cricket game was played at Lord’s in this year and the MCC was founded. It was possibly cricket which killed Prince Frederick, eldest sone of George II and father of George III. He was a great patron of the game and died of an infection of the lung. In one version of the story this was caused when he was struck in the chest by a cricket ball, though others say a real tennis ball, and the dullest version of the story says it was pleurisy.

Also on a topic which has recently become topical, was the founding of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.  The movement for the abolition of slavery had been inspired by Pennsylvania Quakers and had spread to Quakers in the UK. The society was founded in 1787 because Quakers were prohibited from holding many civil offices and they sought to include Anglicans, who were not disadvantaged by religion, to increase the political reach of the society. (The Test Acts would be repealed in 1828, shortly before the abolition of slavery in British territory).

In 1787 freed slave Ottobah Cugoano published Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species.

170px-Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

Design by Wedgwood for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade – it was on the seal of the society and appears on a number of other titems

 Six men were killed in 1787 when troops opened fire on striking weavers in Calton, just outside Glasgow. The weavers had become accustomed to wages of up to £100 a year (see the link about wages – £100 enabled one of the ‘middling sort’ to live comfortably), due to their skill and demand for their product but mechanisation was making things cheaper, and prices were falling. After a 25% wages cut they went on strike and six were killed when the troops opened fire.

It’s a story with many echoes through history, including the Luddites, the Peterloo Massacre, and the Scottish Insurrection.

That is probably enough for now. It has now run to over 1,000 words, and I have only kept it so short by cutting several hundred words. The trouble with the internet is that it makes it so easy to keep finding more and more information.

Wwood Slave

Wedgwood jasperware plaque, also made as a pendant and a brooch.